The church’s history began with Jesus Christ and apostles, who, after the Resurrection, carried his word to all parts of the world, particularly to Greece and then to Italy. The Apostle Peter, who was to become a cornerstone of the new Christian church according to Jesus’ parting words, successfully fulfilled his task. Later, in the 3rd century, the church hierarchy was formed, which survived to this day. The Catholic Church was relatively stable during the early and middle ages, with the Pope in Rome.
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It continued until the 14th century when the papacy moved to Avignon, and then came the Reformation. Some scholars call the period of 1300-1500 Age of Adversity since it was remarked by severe pandemics of plague and hunger (Woodbridge and Frank 2013). The lifespan was 30-35 years for men and women, and vast numbers of people died in childhood and infancy. For the church, this was also a time of the conquest of Constantinople by Turks in 1453 (Woodbridge and Frank 2013).
Then Reformation came; its father, Martin Luther, wrote 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences in 1517, which became the first document of a new era. Understanding the realities of the church history, the history of states under its authority, and the realities of life in distant times makes it possible to understand the emergence of the church traditions and new concepts associated with faith.
For example, Luther’s marriage and the relationship he maintained with his wife have become the basis for the transition of Christianity from orthodoxy to orthopraxy (DeRusha 2017). The first approach focused mainly on the right beliefs and rituals, while the other put correct conduct, both ethical and liturgical, in the first place. It is possible that the experience of Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora, who spent their youth in monasteries, shaped the new vision of the reformist ministry.
Another interesting aspect is the influence of fear of death and sin on Europeans’ perceptions, particularly their vision of God as an angry and ruthless father. After the Black Plague, which came from China and killed 25 million people, a strong fear settled in Europeans’ minds, which church preachers tried to calm down by appealing to faith (Woodbridge and Frank 2013). A part of society perceived terrible epidemics as punishment for sins, which reinforced the concept of fear of evil (DeRusha 2017).
Some people believed that if they subjected themselves to punishment and trials, they could avoid God’s wrath, which gave rise to the tradition of self-flagellation. Another part of the society perceived the epidemic as God’s punishment of people for the church’s sins, particularly for the Great Schism, and moving the center of Catholicism from Rome to Avignon.
In general, people experienced a logically and spiritually unmotivated fear of God, and Luther, who gave rise to the Reformist church, was no exception (DeRusha). A good example is that he made a vow to Saint Anne to become a monk during a thunderstorm for fear of being killed by lightning and kept his vow, in part because of his penchant for church service. But another reason was the fear of breaking the vow given to the saint, which was considered a mortal sin since it spoke of unbelief in God.
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Those preparing to work in ministry should consider the facts presented above to understand some popular Catholic and Protestant implied concepts that should be brought to light for people who visit Sunday Services. It is no less important to understand the idea of God’s plan since its incorrect interpretation, without understanding the historical context, leads many believers to a dead end.
DeRusha, Michelle. Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk. Baker Books, 2017.
Woodbridge, John D., and Frank A. James III. Church History, Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context. Zondervan Academic, 2013.